Friday, October 23, 2009

CIA and Contras cocaine trafficking in the US

The involvement of the United States Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) in cocaine trafficking in Central America during the Reagan Administration as part of the Contra war in Nicaragua has been the subject of several official and journalistic investigations since the mid-1980s.

Early reports

In 1984, U.S. officials began receiving reports of Contra cocaine trafficking. Three officials told journalists that they considered these reports "reliable." Former Panamanian deputy health minister Dr. Hugo Spadafora, who had fought with the Contra army, outlined charges of cocaine trafficking to a prominent Panamanian official and was later found murdered. The charges linked the Contra trafficking to Sebastián González Mendiola, who was charged with cocaine trafficking on November 26, 1984, in Costa Rica. In 1985, another Contra leader "told U.S. authorities that his group was being paid $50,000 by Colombian traffickers for help with a 100-kilo cocaine shipment and that the money would go 'for the cause' of fighting the Nicaraguan government." A 1985 National Intelligence Estimate revealed cocaine trafficking links to a top commander working under Contra leader Edén Pastora.[1] Pastora had complained about such charges as early as March 1985, claiming that "two 'political figures' in Washington told him last week that State Department and CIA personnel were spreading the rumor that he is linked to drug trafficking in order to isolate his movement."[2]

On December 20, 1985, these and other charges were laid out in an Associated Press article after an extensive investigation which included interviews with "officials from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), Customs Service, Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and Costa Rica's Public Security Ministry, as well as rebels and Americans who work with them." Five American Contra supporters who worked with the rebels confirmed the charges, noting that "two Cuban-Americans used armed rebel troops to guard cocaine at clandestine airfields in northern Costa Rica. They identified the Cuban-Americans as members of the 2506 Brigade, an anti-Castro group that participated in the 1961 Bay of Pigs attack on Cuba. Several also said they supplied information about the smuggling to U.S. investigators." One of the Americans "said that in one ongoing operation, the cocaine is unloaded from planes at rebel airstrips and taken to an Atlantic coast port where it is concealed on shrimp boats that are later unloaded in the Miami area."[1]

On March 16, 1986, the San Francisco Examiner published a report on the "1983 seizure of 430 pounds of cocaine from a Colombian freighter" in San Francisco which indicated that a "cocaine ring in the San Francisco Bay area helped finance Nicaragua's Contra rebels." Carlos Cabezas, convicted of conspiracy to traffic cocaine, said that the profits from his crimes "belonged to... the Contra revolution." He told the Examiner, "I just wanted to get the Communists out of my country." Julio Zavala, also convicted on trafficking charges, said "that he supplied $500,000 to two Costa Rican-based Contra groups and that the majority of it came from cocaine trafficking in the San Francisco Bay area, Miami and New Orleans."[3]

Former CIA agent David MacMichael explained the inherent relationship between CIA activity in Latin America and drug trafficking: "Once you set up a covert operation to supply arms and money, it's very difficult to separate it from the kind of people who are involved in other forms of trade, and especially drugs. There is a limited number of planes, pilots and landing strips. By developing a system for supply of the Contras, the US built a road for drug supply into the US."[4]
[edit] FBI probe

In April 1986, Associated Press reported on an FBI probe into Contra cocaine trafficking. According to the report, "Twelve American, Nicaraguan and Cuban-American rebel backers interviewed by The Associated Press said they had been questioned over the past several months [about contra cocaine trafficking] by the FBI. The interviews, some covering several days, were conducted in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Texas, Colorado and California, the Contra backers said." Several of the backers told AP of firsthand knowledge of cocaine trafficking.[5]
[edit] Reagan Administration admits Contra-cocaine connections

On April 17, 1986, the Reagan Administration released a three page report acknowledging that there were some Contra-cocaine connections in 1984 and 1985, arguing that these connections occurred at a time when the rebels were "particularly hard pressed for financial support" because U.S. aid had been cut off. The report admitted that "We have evidence of a limited number of incidents in which known drug traffickers have tried to establish connections with Nicaraguan resistance groups." The report tried to downplay the drug activity, claiming that it took place "without the authorization of resistance leaders."[6]
[edit] Kerry Committee

In 1986, Senator John Kerry and Senator Christopher Dodd proposed a series of hearings at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee regarding charges of Contra involvement in drug trafficking; the hearings were conducted by Senator Richard G. Lugar of Indiana, the Republican Chairman of the Committee. The report of the Committee, released on April 13, 1989, found that "Contra drug links included... payments to drug traffickers by the U.S. State Department of funds authorized by the Congress for humanitarian assistance to the Contras, in some cases after the traffickers had been indicted by federal law enforcement agencies on drug charges, in others while traffickers were under active investigation by these same agencies." The U.S. State Department paid over $806,000 to known drug traffickers to carry humanitarian assistance to the Contras.[7]
[edit] Gary Webb

Former DEA agent Celerino Castillo alleged that during the 1980s Ilopango Airport in El Salvador was used by Contras for drug smuggling flights with the knowledge and complicity of the CIA. These allegations were part of an investigation by the United States Department of Justice Office of the Inspector General.[8] Castillo also testified before the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. Between 1996 and 1998 the Central Intelligence Agency investigated and then published a report about its alleged involvement in cocaine sales in the US. This was prompted by the journalist Gary Webb's report in the Mercury News which alleged that the CIA was behind the 1980s crack epidemic.[9]
[edit] Investigation

After the Gary Webb report in the Mercury News, the CIA Inspector General Frederick Hitz was assigned to investigate these allegations in 1996. The CIA director John Deutch pledged that Hitz would present his findings in three months. But for almost a year and a half, there was little news. Then on December 18, 1997, stories in the Washington Post and New York Times appeared, stating that Hitz had found "no direct or indirect" links between the CIA and cocaine traffickers, despite the reporters never seeing the report. This story of no links between the CIA and cocaine traffickers was quickly picked up by the networks.[10]

Six weeks later, the new CIA director, George Tenet declared that he was releasing the report. Tenet denied the Gary Webb allegations, which were reported nationally.[10]
[edit] Contents of the report

The contents of the actual report was largely ignored by the national media. In the 623rd paragraph, the report described a cable from the CIA's Directorate of Operations dated October 22, 1982, describing a prospective meeting between Contra leaders in Costa Rica for "an exchange in [the United States] of narcotics for arms, which then are shipped to Nicaragua."[11] The two main Contra groups, US arms dealers, and a lieutenant of a drug ring which imported drugs from Latin America to the US west coast were set to attend the Costa Rica meeting. The lieutenant trafficker was also a Contra, and the CIA knew that there was an arms-for-drugs shuttle and did nothing to stop it.[10]

The report stated that the CIA had requested the Justice Department return $36,800 to a member of the Meneses drug ring, which had been seized by DEA agents in the Frogman raid in San Francisco. The CIA's Inspector General said the Agency wanted the money returned "to protect an operational equity, i.e., a Contra support group in which it [CIA] had an operational interest."[10]
[edit] Testimony of the CIA Inspector General

Six weeks after the declassified and heavily censored report was made public, Inspector General Hitz testified before a House congressional committee.[10] Hitz stated that:

Volume II... will be devoted to a detailed treatment of what was known to CIA regarding dozens of people and a number of companies connected in some fashion to the Contra program or the Contra movement that were the subject of any sort of drug trafficking allegations. Each is closely examined in terms of their relationship with CIA, the drug trafficking activity that was alleged, the actions CIA took in response to the allegations, and the extent of information concerning the allegations that was Shared with U.S. law enforcement and Congress.

As I said earlier, we have found no evidence in the course of this lengthy investigation of any conspiracy by CIA or its employees to bring drugs into the United States. However, during the Contra era, CIA worked with a variety of people to support the Contra program. These included CIA assets, pilots who ferried supplies to the Contras, as well as Contra officials and others. Let me be frank about what we are finding. There are instances where CIA did not, in an expeditious or consistent fashion, cut off relationships with individuals supporting the Contra program who were alleged to have engaged in drug trafficking activity or take action to resolve the allegations.[12]

Hitz also testified that the CIA did not "expeditiously" cut off relations with alleged drug traffickers.[13]

Hitz also said that under an agreement in 1982 between Ronald Reagan's Attorney General William French Smith and the CIA, agency officers were not required to report allegations of drug trafficking involving non-employees, defined as paid and non-paid "assets"--pilots who ferried supplies to the contras, as well as contra officials and others.[12][13]

This agreement, which had not previously been revealed, came at a time when there were allegations that the CIA was using drug dealers in its controversial covert operation to bring down the leftist Sandinista government in Nicaragua.[13] Only after Congressional funds were restored in 1986 was the agreement modified to require the CIA to stop paying agents whom it believed were involved in the drug trade.[10]

Who are the illegals?

Cultural Issues

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Decolonizing is pueblos’ first step

By Manuel R. Cristobal

On Aug. 10, 2008, we honored the Ohkay Owingeh (formerly San Juan Pueblo) leader Pope who led the Pueblo Indian Revolt, which took place Aug. 10, 1680. It was not simply a revolt as portrayed in New Mexico’s colonial history, but the only successful indigenous revolution against the powerful sovereign of Spain, and long before the American Revolution of 1775 – 1783.

We also commemorate this historic anniversary to all the warriors, the Keres, Walatowa, Tiwa, Tewa, Zuni, Hopi, Apache, Comanche, and Diné. I would like to honor this day with a peaceful gesture, a symbol of hope. In this spirit and contemporary time, we are all here to address the impact of Spanish colonialism 400 years afterward and the ramifications on the Pueblo people today. The majority of the public have no comprehension of the psychological “brainwashing” still prevalent within pueblo communities.
It was the Spanish thought and culture instituted from 1620 that was designed to eradicate our Pueblo beliefs and culture.

It was the Spanish thought and culture instituted from 1620 that was designed to eradicate our Pueblo beliefs and culture. In 1620, by royal decree of the King of Spain, the Keres, Tiwa, Tewa, Walatowa, and Zuni, were formed into civil government and given Spanish canes of authority. These institutions were designed to make us servants of indoctrination of a life of servitude, which is still practiced today. Mexican officials gave Pueblos canes after Mexico won its independence from Spain in 1821. President Abraham Lincoln also presented canes in recognition of the pueblo’s non-violent position toward the United States during the American Civil War.

Most recently, King Juan Carlos of Spain presented the Spanish canes to the All Indian Pueblo Council. Former New Mexico Gov. Bruce King affirmed the same recognition with a presentation of 19 canes to the pueblos. In 2007, Spain gave the Pueblo of Acoma a cane, so tribal officials would not contest the controversial, three-story-tall bronze statue “The Equestrian” in El Paso, Texas.

Another example of such an interpretation of Spanish influence today is the patron Saint Santiago (the saint of conquest) who appears in a drama acted out during some pueblo feast days. Santiago appears in the ceremony wearing Spanish style clothing, carrying a sword and a cross while riding a puppeteer horse. He is called “sandero” (Spanish solider) by the Pueblos who impersonate him. “Santiago” is also a Spanish war cry, which echoes an eternity of human suffering. Is this the perception of celebration?

Who are we honoring this day? What is wrong with this picture?

Here in the pueblos, colonialism remains alive with civil obedience to Spanish morals and “morality dramas” of the reconquista (reconquest). Miles away in El Paso, “The Equestrian” remains a controversial memorial to the genocidal Conquistador Juan De Onate. We can define annihilation of the Pueblo people through colonization and forced assimilation. How detrimental to continue to empower the concepts of the Spanish institutions.

We are at a time in the “conscious thought” of the Pueblo people to begin to bring an end to the system of colonization, and move towards independence from symbolic “Spanish canes” and exercise our inherent right to decolonize from the Proclamation of 1620. Most Pueblo people need to assert their right to self-determination and take a stand with a democratic constitution.

Nothing creates more talk and disagreement than our Pueblo Indian women’s “lack of human rights.” True, some Pueblo women serve on tribal councils and have served as governors only when their pueblos have written a Constitution. Other Pueblo women have no voice in tribal councils in a system molded after the 1620 Spanish civil government. When these exclusions of rights do not exist, there are many hidden exploitations that Pueblo women endure today. Women in Iraq have more political rights and that is the right to vote.

The Pueblo people will look upon this “controversial issue” of historical trauma, and will see the truth and acknowledge the manifestations of the pervasive Spanish institutions, including the legacies that still indoctrinate the Pueblo today. Keeping this issue of sovereignty alive is a real concern today. We must focus on abstaining from participating in Santa Fe’s 2009 and 2010 Cuarto Centenario, which celebrates four centuries of Spanish influence. Support of this event would give the impression that Pueblo people endorse and validate events that commemorate the “genocide” of indigenous people of the Southwest.

As Pueblo people, we must secure our right to speak the truth without fear of intimidation and retaliation for speaking out. It is time to speak the truth and decolonize our Pueblo minds.

The opinions expressed in this editorial do not represent the Santa Ana Tribal Council or the 19-Indian Pueblo Council.

The Federal Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968 states, “No Indian tribe exercising powers of self-government shall make or abridge the freedom of speech or the press.”

CIA blunders outlined in new book

By Tim Shipman

The CIA thought it had an intelligence coup on its hands in 1994. Its friends in the Guatemalan military were bugging the bedroom of Marilyn McAfee, the American ambassador in that country, whom they regarded as suspect because she was fighting human rights abuses by the regime.

Eavesdroppers heard her whispering sweet nothings to someone whom they took to be her secretary, another female diplomat - and the CIA set out to undermine Mrs McAfee by spreading rumours in Washington that she was a lesbian.

There was just one problem. The ambassador, who was happily married, was not having an affair with her secretary. The secret microphones had instead recorded her "cooing endearments" to Murphy, her poodle.

The mistake is just one example of bungling by the CIA chronicled in a new history of the agency by the Pulitzer prize-winning author, Tim Weiner, who has covered intelligence matters for The New York Times for two decades.

His book draws on 50,000 documents in the CIA's archives, dating back to 1947, the year it was founded, and more than 300 interviews with staff, past and present, including 10 former directors. Weiner concludes that "the most powerful nation in the history of Western civilisation has failed to create a first-rate spy service" - a failure, he argues, that is a danger to American security.

He paints a portrait of a rogue agency which devoted more time to covert action to oust governments than to gathering information about America's enemies, and which failed to predict every big international event from the outbreak of the Korean War to the fall of the Berlin Wall and the 9/11 attacks.

The book, Legacy of Ashes, has infuriated some former CIA officers who insist that the agency needs support, not denigration. One dismissed Weiner's criticisms as "superficial and unfair".

It details how the CIA relied from the outset on low-level sources and ill-trained officers. In 1953 it sent its first officer to Moscow, but he was so inept that he was seduced by his Russian housemaid - really a KGB colonel - photographed in flagrante and blackmailed.

In eastern Europe in the early days of the Cold War, almost every agent parachuted in was captured and killed. More than $1 million was sent to a fake spy ring set up by Polish intelligence - effectively paying money directly to their enemy.

During the Korean War, none of the CIA's 200 officers in the South Korean capital, Seoul, spoke Korean. In 1952, the CIA station chief concluded that nearly every Korean agent either "invented his reports or worked in secret for the communists".

Things were little better in the battle with America's main Cold War foe, Weiner argues. An internal CIA report in 1956 found that just two of the 20 spies recruited in the Soviet Union had any contact with the government or military. One of its top sources was a Russian vet.

When the Berlin Wall was erected in 1961, among the CIA's best agents in East Berlin were a newspaper salesman and a roofer, who occasionally worked in the Soviet military compound. Small wonder, Weiner argues, that the CIA concluded that Russia would have 500 intercontinental ballistic missiles "ready to strike" them that year, when the true figure was four.

For eight years after 1986 the CIA sent reports to Presidents Reagan, Bush and Clinton on the strength of the Soviet military which they knew came largely from sources controlled by Moscow.

The CIA's current difficulties in the Middle East are part of a long and undistinguished history. When Iraq invaded Kuwait in 1990, Robert Gates, then the agency's head and now the American defence secretary, was at a family picnic. A friend of his wife asked him: "What are you doing here?" Mr Gates said: "What are you talking about?" She replied: "The invasion." Mr Gates responded: "What invasion?"

Weiner concludes that even the CIA's apparent successes in covert action proved to be strategic failures. Ousting the Iranian government in 1953 led inexorably to the revolution of 1979. The CIA backed the 1963 Ba'ath Party coup in Iraq which opened the door for Saddam Hussein.

Weiner lays the blame squarely on the shoulders of the CIA's leaders, including some senior officials who have since been revealed as alcoholics, and others who became mentally ill. Allen Dulles, the agency's most celebrated leader, judged the importance of intelligence reports by their weight rather than their contents, a former CIA analyst told Weiner. Frank Wisner, the chief of the CIA's clandestine service in the Fifties was diagnosed with "psychotic mania" and committed to a mental hospital.

The criticisms have enraged some former spies. Pete Bagley, a former CIA chief of Soviet counterintelligence, said: "Weiner's general conclusions are superficial and unfair. I don't remember any CIA misjudgement of Soviet bloc leaders that ever seriously weakened or disoriented American policy, nor do I think that it ever caused the government to lower its guard militarily."

He said that Britain and other European intelligence agencies did no better than the CIA in recruiting top-level sources, and were unable to match the CIA's "first-rate knowledge" from spy planes, satellites and eavesdropping.

Mr Bagley, whose memoirs, Spy Wars, were published earlier this year, urged support for the CIA in its battle against militant Islam, "targets even more difficult than the tight Soviet regime of my time". He said: "I am glad that I don't have to penetrate little groups of fanatic, related, death-seeking zealots."

The CIA has not officially commented on the book.

The Name of This Land is Hell: Mexico in Literature

A valuable lesson was learned on the treacherous road that led to the creation of this month’s column, a journey that began as a review of Amigoland, the debut novel by Oscar Casares, and ended with the vow that I shall never again attempt to understand Mexico, not through literature and history and scholars, nor through the field and clinical data compiled by sociologists and ethnologists.

The Mexican psyche and character is a slippery beast that defies understanding. Before the 300-year Spanish occupation, the indigenous peoples of Mexico were comprised of the Maya, the Zapotec, the Olmec, the Aztec, the Mixtec, and the Teotihuacan, advanced civilizations that thrived for over 4,000 years before the Europeans turned the nation into their own Extended Stay hotel, bringing along a foreign religion that they were more than eager to share with the native populace.

T.C., a Mexican-American friend of mine, a man immensely proud and aware of his Mexican heritage, put it more bluntly: “How can anyone try to describe the Mexican experience or modality without mentioning the indigenous historic culture and its Spanish medieval Catholic conquerors who, through painful birth, gave the world Mexico and Mexicans and Mexican-Americans, who have influenced so much American culture yet remain, by and large, invisible and misunderstood.”

The majority of Mexicans (60-80 percent according to the latest census figures) are Mestizos, those of mixed European and Amerindian ancestry, living in a federation of 31 free and sovereign states, with each state divided into municipalities. The municipalities can be even further divided into boroughs in many states.

Despite all those tangled bloodlines and administrative divisions in the nation of Mexico, certain collective and nationalistic behaviors can be isolated and explored exhaustively. And one will come away from the experience more confused than when the journey began.

A few days before my deadline, Vaughn Croteau, a New Mexico artist whose work with exotic woods and precious metals has been displayed in galleries throughout the American Southwest, sent along a note of support after I informed him that the topic of my new column had me in a stranglehold and was not letting up.

“Years ago a good friend of mine was an elderly Spanish gentleman – an incredible man of letters – who was a historian,” Vaughn wrote. “His primary study was Spanish colonial history, particularly in New Mexico; we spent many hours discussing the gamut of topics within his knowledge while drinking and eating fine regional meals. I learned an awful lot during our association, but I really came no closer to understanding or being able to articulate anything definitive about Latin culture in the Americas. The history can be incredibly harsh, but without it the world would be a much sorrier place.”

The Plight of Jesus Christ
The nation of Mexico, Malcolm Lowry writes in Under the Volcano, boasts “some extraordinary land… but the name of this land is hell.”

Long before and long after Lowry’s 1947 masterwork, born of his own experiences in Cuernevaca in the ‘30s, writers from all points of the globe have fixed their gaze and their miles of bleeding typewriter ribbon upon the murky interior of America’s troubled nation to the south. Many have peered at the interior of Mexico’s dark heart – indeed, American writer Ambrose Bierce literally disappeared in it in the middle of a 1914 revolution led by Pancho Villa – but very few have penetrated its contradictory mazes and chambers.

Mexico is like the dispassionate cantina whore one might encounter in a Cormac McCarthy novel or a Sam Peckinpah western. When you ask her name she blinks her long black lashes, smiles coyly and mysteriously, then she takes you by the hand and leads you to a room above the bar where you will find a bed and a wash basin. The most conspicuous object in the room is a large crucifix hanging by a rusty nail on the wall above the bed.

That crucifix is a big part of the problem.

In The Silver Christ of Santa Fe (Portions From a Wine-Stained Notebook, 2008), Charles Bukowski essays his clumsy attempt to sustain carnal knowledge with a friend’s houseguest:

… There on the wall opposite to my sight hung a life-sized silver Christ nailed to a life-sized silver cross. His eyes appeared to be open and He was watching me… His eyes seemed to grow larger, pulsate. Those nails, the thorns. The poor guy, they’d murdered Him, now He was just a hunk of silver on the wall, watching, watching…

According to a 2009 census, 95 percent of the population of Mexico is Christian, with Roman Catholics making up 89 percent of that figure, and 47 percent of citizens polled say they attend church services weekly. One would be hard pressed to find a more theistic, heavily Catholic human population outside the walls of the Vatican.

In Mexican culture, as presented in literary works like Kerouac’s poetic mini-masterpiece Tristessa, and Lowry’s booze-soaked and hallucinogenic novel Under the Volcano, God, Jesus, and the Virgin Mary are always watching. One can never escape their punishing or forgiving gaze, not even at home. From Tristessa by Jack Kerouac:

…the mother, the woman, the Virgin Mary of Mexico—Tristessa has a huge ikon (sic) in a corner of her bedroom.

It faces the room, back to the kitchen wall, in right hand corner as you face the woesome kitchen with its drizzle showering ineffably from the roof tree twigs and hammerboards (bombed out shelter roof)—Her ikon represents the Holy Mother staring out of her blue charaderees, her robes and Damema arrangements, at which El Indio prays devoutly when going out to get some junk. El Indio is a vendor of curios, allegedly—I never see him on San Juan Letran selling crucifixes, I never see El Indio in the street, no Redondas, no anywhere—The Virgin Mary has a candle, a bunch of glass-fulla-wax economical burners that go for weeks on end, like Tibetan prayer-wheels the inexhaustible aid from oru Amida—I smile to see this lovely ikon.

“The plight of Jesus Christ,” my friend T.C. points out, “is a perfect icon for the Mexican raison d’etre: scorned, tortured, and crucified by his own people, only to rise again and become legendary for over 2,000 years. His suffering mother, in the role of the Virgin of Guadalupe, appeals to all Mexicans as Mother Earth and is maybe even more popular than Jesus himself.”

There is no doubt that T.C. is culturally and theologically correct in his assessment but theology, as the late Roberto Bolano argues in his mammoth masterpiece 2666, can breed not only superstition and paranoia – God is watching you at all times – but also a more than vague suspicion of God’s honesty at the poker table.

In a tangential moment in Book Five of 2666 (The Part About Archimboldi), a German infantryman becomes hopelessly lost in the tunnels of the French Maginot line during combat in World War II. In his sleep, God visits the soldier and tells him that the pathway out of the maze will be revealed if the man surrenders his soul (“Which I already own,” God reminds the man) in a blood oath. The infantryman agrees to the pact and upon awakening he finds his way out of the tunnels and returns to the 79th Infantry Division unscathed.

“Four days later,” Bolano writes, “the soldier who sold his soul to God was walking down the street when he was hit by a German car and killed.”

The anecdote may be about a German soldier but the story’s dark humor and sense of fatalism – not to mention a higher being who is a greater trickster than the slick coyote – is pure Mexican and Mexico, of course, is Bolano’s focus in his final epic novel, a book that rivals James Joyce’s landmark Finnegans Wake for its scope, complexity, and enigmatic narrative, which is no small literary accident.

Like Joyce, Bolano draws upon an encyclopedic range of literary works in 2666, everything from Graham Greene’s 1940 parable The Power and the Glory, set in Mexico during a period of anti-clerical violence and persecution, to William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist (1971), a nightmarish plunge into the dark side of the Jesuit faith where demons really do exist.

The motivational spark for Finnegans Wake, taken from the 18th-century Italian philosopher Giambattista Vico, is that history is cyclic (Finnegans Wake begins with the end of a sentence left unfinished on the last page). Looping Mexico’s current human homicide crisis around the sins of the Nazis – ghosts of the German war machine appear and merge and disappear in 2666’s 900 pages – Bolano invokes the same philosophy but takes it one step further to suggest that God is a human construct and the cyclic loop of man’s depraved crimes against his fellow man cannot simply be dismissed as anomalies in an otherwise ordered and structured universe.

Chilean-born Bolano – who spent many years living in Mexico – posits that the barbaric, unsolved murders of the factory girls of Ciudad Juarez in the northern Mexican state of Chihuahua, where the bodies of more than 1,000 women, some raped and hideously mutilated, have been found since 1993 (with scores of others still missing) must be seen as incontrovertible proof that human existence is governed by the laws of chaos and that theocracy – the kind of suffocating Roman Catholic theocracy that hovers over Mexico like a dense layer of smog—gets in the way and leads to the sort of perversity it aims to prevent: After all, if God is watching everything you’re doing and you’re going to hell for it anyway, why not descend into absolute deviance in the process and slice off a nipple or torture the genitalia of your innocent victim with shards of broken glass if you’re intent on killing them (for whatever nefarious reason) in the first place?

“Modern man likes to pretend his thinking is wide-awake,” Octavio Paz, the first Mexican writer to become a Nobel laureate with his 1990 prize for literature, writes in The Labyrinth of Solitude. “But this wide-awake thinking has led us into the mazes of a nightmare in which the torture chambers are endlessly repeated in the mirrors of reason.”

Fighter salutes Mexican roots

Cain Velasquez keeps his immense pride in his Mexican heritage close to his heart.

In fact, he wears it across his chest.

Velasquez, who will fight Ben Rothwell in the co-main event at UFC 104 on Saturday night in Los Angeles, has "Brown Pride" tattooed prominently on the front of his body.

"I did it (as a tribute to) my dad and all he did to get over here. He gave me something to look up to when I was little," Velasquez said. "I'm proud of my roots and where I come from. We're hard workers. I love that. I love everything about my culture."

Velasquez said his father crossed the border illegally and was deported several times before finally settling in Salinas, Calif., and starting a family.

The Velasquezes moved to Arizona when Cain was 2 years old. He eventually took up wrestling there. Velasquez had incredible success as an amateur and was a two-time All-American at Arizona State.

Those accomplishments led him to mixed martial arts after college, and Velasquez is 6-0, including four victories in the Ultimate Fighting Championship.

He is quickly rising in the UFC's heavyweight ranks and also serves an important role as the organization's unofficial ambassador to the Latino market that UFC brass covets.

UFC 100 in July was the organization's first event televised in Mexico, and organization president Dana White said ratings were very good. He also said the numbers for subsequent events have increased.

But Velasquez might hold the key to making further inroads with Latino audiences.

While the 27-year-old heavyweight is marketable, White said, there is only one way to ensure that he spearheads the UFC's drive for popularity in Mexico and the rest of Latin America.

"The one key thing about Cain Velasquez in that (Mexican) market is they've never had a heavyweight champion in anything. So if this guy can win the heavyweight championship, it would be big," White said. "But we don't make those decisions. It's up to him Saturday night. He'd have to beat Rothwell this weekend. Then he's got maybe another fight, or he'll fight for the title.

"He's got to keep winning. But I don't make those decisions. If it should work out that Cain Velasquez keeps winning and wins the title, yeah, I guarantee it would be huge for us in the Hispanic market."

Velasquez insists he doesn't feel the pressure of trying to perform for an entire segment of the fan base.

"I know what my job is. I know what I have to do, and I know how to do it. I know I have to train hard," he said. "But it's great that I can be that type of person that people can look up to."

Velasquez said he embraces being a role model, partly because there were few Latinos in entertainment when he was growing up.

"It's important to me because when I was growing up I didn't have anyone that looked like me in the media or on TV," he said. "I didn't have the feeling that I could (make it) because I didn't see those people that looked like me."

Having Velasquez fight in Los Angeles appears to be a good marketing move by the UFC given the city's large Hispanic population.

He said he has enjoyed the attention.

"I had a great welcoming at the last press conference that we had in L.A., and so far (this week) the fans have been great," Velasquez said. "So I think it's an honor to be here and have so many fans behind me."

White insists it's purely happenstance.

"I'd love to tell you that I'm a genius and I planned that whole thing out for him to fight in L.A. with the big Hispanic market. But it just fell on me that he was going to fight on this card," he said.

Velasquez's connection to the Hispanic community is no coincidence, however.

It's written all over his chest.

The genetic ancestry of Indian Muslims

It seems that most Muslim groups in India have a great deal of genetic similarity with neighbouring Hindu groups. This suggests that the bulk of Indian Muslims are descended from Hindus who converted to Islam in the past. Despite religious differences, there are thus great genetic similarities between Hindu and Muslim populations.

However, there is also a certain level of Iranian and Central Asian descent in Muslim populations in South Asia as well. This is not the predominant part of people's ancestry, but the scientists claim they could find some trace of it in some genes. This suggests that the Mughal Empire and its predecessor Muslim empires in the Indian subcontinent mainly had soldiers and settlers who were of Central Asian or Iranian [not Arab] origin. These groups settled in India and then intermarried with the local population. In elite groups, perhaps this level of intermarriage was less than in the population as a whole - as the elite may wanted to retain and maintain marriage alliances with princes and generals in Iran, Afghanistan, Turkmenistan etc, especially in situations where they lived in areas that were borderlands.

In terms of the Pakistani elite, Razib points out that Benazir Bhutto's mother was Kurdish. There may thus be a greater prevalence - even to this day - of marriage with Iranian or Kurdish peoples among the landowning elite in Pakistan.

The economics of the world's oldest profession

Having read Levitt and Dubner's book and looked at the article and some of the comments around Nick Davies' investigation into the existence or non-existence of notable amounts of people trafficking , I thought I would write an article highlighting views on the economics driving prostitution. Additionally, as mention of sex tends to increase the number of visits to a internet site, I think this might also be a good way of increasing my blog hit stats! :)

Levitt and Dubner's basic argument is that there will be a market for sexual services because of differing demand for sex between the sexes. They do not take a view on whether this is morally or socially a good or bad thing - in contrast to the criminal law in most US states, which makes prostitution a criminal offence.

They look at stats from the early 20th century and claim that, in the 1910s, perhaps 1 in 50 women in her 20s in the US was working as a prostitute. They also claim that the annual earnings of a prostitute in Chicago at the beginning of the 20th century were about $76,000 in today's money [taking into account inflation and earnings growth since then]. Apparently, girls working at one of the most lavish brothels in Chicago - which was run by the Everleigh Sisters - could earn up to $430,000 per year in today's money. The Everleigh Sisters themselves did even better at the expense of their workers. When arrested, they had a fortune in excess of $22m at current prices.

Unfortunately for street prostitutes in Chicago, the wage level for them seems to have fallen below the level earned by girls working in brothels in the early days of the 20th century. Sudir Venkatesh, the academic who studied a drugs gang in the past [and was cited in the first Freakonomics book] now turned his attention to prostitutes and calculated, via a survey carried out by interviewers who were more likely to be trusted [i.e. former hookers themselves] that street prostitutes were earning only about $25,000 a year from their work. Like the "foot soldiers" in the drugs gangs, who were only getting the equivalent of $3/hr, the prostitutes of the streets of Chicago seemed to be getting a bad deal - particularly given the stress and risk of violence. Partly this was because they were addicted to drugs and in a weak bargaining position. Venkatesh also worked out that having a pimp seemed to improve these women's bargaining position and they got more money if they had a pimp than if they were trying to work on their own.

Despite the fact that $25k is not that much money for a whole year, Levitt and Dubner, by looking at the other sources of income [such as shoplifting and informal work] that these women do - it seems prostitution is the most lucrative. This does illustrate the lack of legitimate employment and, even when obtained, the low level of wages on offer for women in the most deprived neighbourhoods of Chicago.

The illegality of prostitution in Chicago also left the women open to harassment from the police. In what Levitt and Dubnet call an illustration of the principal-agent problem [and what others would call an abuse of power] it seems that 3% of all the sex prostitutes had was with policemen in exchange for not being arrested. Probably not what the social-conservatives who brought in the anti-prostitution legislation intended!

Levitt and Dubnet interview one prostitute who seems to have made a good living from it, who they dub 'Allie'. She was earning upwards of $200,000 a year as an 'escort'. This salary is far higher than she said she was getting in her previous job. In fact, in her case, Levitt and Dubner argue that the fact that prostitution is illegal may help her since it constrains supply and thus reduces the number of competitors she might have. Perhaps this was also why women in the Everleigh Sisters' brothel earned so much. They were a relatively small number of suppliers serving a big market.

'Allie' grew up in the South and then moved to Chicago. This movement for the purposes of such work - particularly as this sex work is socially stigmatised by social conservatives - is stated as being quite common. This is likely to be because prostitutes do not want to bump into friends or relatives while they are working [or, worse still, encounter them as potential customers!]. This may also explain why many prostitutes cross international borders to work. Davies' points out that, if they haven't got a valid visa, they may have to be smuggled in. But being smuggled is not the same as being trafficked. These individuals may be perfectly willing to travel - and are not being forced into prostitution in a foreign land.

And, like for the street prostitutes in Chicago's poor neighbourhoods, the lack of alternative economic opportunities to make a living encourages people who have been smuggled into the UK to take up prostitution. The income they can get this way will be greater than the income they could get other ways - due to the danger and social stigma involved in the job. In a chilling statistic, Venkatesh and his colleagues said that at least 3 of the 160 women they surveyed died during the course of the study!

Queen's prof hopes project helps change eating habits in Mexico


Mexico is undergoing a "nutrition transition," and a Queen's University professor is hoping a new research project will lead to healthier eating habits being instilled in its inhabitants.

A nutrition transition occurs when a country undergoes rapid economic growth and the size of its middle class also grows, both in population and girth.

"When we were doing the research for the grant, it became clear that what's been called the 'nutrition transition' has been happening in Mexico," Elaine Power said, who added that India and China are two other countries undergoing a similar transformation.

"It's fascinating and very troubling that you have high, high levels of malnutrition existing along with high levels of obesity."

Power, an assistant professor of kinesiology and health studies at the university, said that almost 15% of preschool children and 26% of school-aged children in Mexico are considered overweight.

The study -- which will cost 149,500 Mexican pesos, or $12,022 Canadian -- is being funded by the Canada and Mexico Battling Childhood Obesity (CAMBIO) program based at Queen's.

Power will be working on the project along with Dr. Jess Haines of Harvard Medical School and Dr. Hotensia Reyes Morales of the National Institute of Public Health in Mexico.

The study will focus on children currently enrolled in government-funded child care. The group chose the preschool population because their habits weren't as ingrained as they are in older children.

"At [the preschool] age, kids learn not by what you tell them, but by what they see you doing," Power said. "By providing healthier food, they'll learn that that's the accepted norm."

Preschoolers are also more likely than older children to emulate their classmates' eating habits, Power said. If one child is chomping green beans, for example, another is more likely to try them since his or her classmate is eating them.

One of the obstacles to establishing healthy eating habits in Mexico, Power said, is that being fat is often considered a status symbol.

"You're up against a whole kind of culture, and needing to shift that culture," Power said.

For example, Power said Mexicans are the world's largest consumers of Coca-Cola.

"[Coca-Cola] is such a powerful symbol of particularly American success," Power explained. "Everybody can afford to drink a Coke. In a consumer society -- and that's where Mexico is moving -- being able to purchase that, being able to drink it, is a sign of belonging."

Power said that it will also be vital for researchers to speak with parents.

"For me, what's really, really valuable is actually talking to parents and what's important to them," Power said.

Originally, Power's role was to help hone researchers on how to conduct the research. That role, however, has changed, since Power found that Mexico, in fact, already boasted some excellent researchers. She will now play a more supportive role instead.

As a "food sociologist," Power is curious about what food means to people and what it means to them in different circumstances.

"In Mexico," she said, "I'm really interested how cultural issues affect food."

Televisa Profit Declines as Costs to Attract Subscribers Rose

By Crayton Harrison

Oct. 23 (Bloomberg) -- Grupo Televisa SA, the world’s largest Spanish-language broadcaster, said third-quarter profit declined 2.6 percent as costs increased to recruit cable and satellite subscribers.

Net income dropped to 2.01 billion pesos ($156 million) from 2.07 billion pesos a year earlier, Televisa said yesterday in a statement. Sales advanced 5.5 percent to 13.1 billion pesos, beating the 12.9 billion-peso estimate of Michel Morin, an analyst at Barclays Capital Inc. in New York.

Televisa spent more to market its products and offered cheaper packages for its satellite and cable-TV services. Sales costs contributed to a 3.4 percent drop in operating profit in the satellite business to 1.08 billion pesos. An ad campaign for a TV, Web and phone-service bundle for cable customers also ate into profit, Televisa said.

The three cable operators controlled by Televisa added more than 38,000 Internet users and 56,300 phone users.

Televisa fell 70 centavos to 52.44 pesos yesterday in Mexico City trading. The shares have gained 28 percent this year.